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speaking on a didactic subject, he was addressing his audience in figurative language.
The origin of figures has been referred to the poverty of language; but I rather consider them either as the sport of the fancy, or as the expression of passion or enthusiasm. We see imagery, and especially from natural objects, employed by the rudest and most savage nations, not from necessity, but from choice. The few specimens which we have had translated of Indian, elequence are abundantly figurative, and no writings can be more conspicuous in this respect than the earliest productions of the Arabians. The writings of the Hebrews proceed from a higher source than mere human invention, yet we may easily conceive them, in style and manner, adapted to the circumstances of the age and the taste of the people. They are highly figurative, and that most accurate critic, Bishop Lowth, in his incomparable "Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews," has shewn that their imagery was all derived from those objects with which, from the time and situation of the country and nation, they were most familiar.
This branch of ornament is much more easily redu ced to rule and methodical arrangement than that of which I have just been treating. But though it is easy to class the different forms of figurative language, still treatises on rhetoric will afford you as little substantial aid in this instance as in the former; for however reluctant the professor in this art may be, to own a truth destructive of his very profession, still he must confess with Butler:
"That all a rhetorician's rules
"Teach nothing but to name his tools."
It is genius alone that can enable you to use them; and it is a mind copiously stored with knowledge that can furnish the materials. The only essential service that can be rendered to a young writer in this way, is to caution him against the indiscreet and indiscriminate use of this species of ornament: for though its effect, is
fine in impassioned composition, and under the direction of a good taste, nothing can be more vapid, cold, and disgusting than a style overcharged with commonplace metaphors and comparisons.
Figurative language, it is obvious, must depend upon the principle of association, and of the three relations cause and effect, contiguity, and resemblance; the latter is the most fertile in the production of tropes and figures. That fancy which is most excursive, and which is the best stored with various knowledge, will be the most active in forming the combinations essential to figurative language. The various knowledge which extended to the detail of almost every subject in nature, and in art, is most conspicuous in Shakspeare, and in Butler; and among the moderns none have excelled Mr. Burke in the boldness and variety of his imagery.
I shall not perplex you with the distinction between tropes and figures; but since I have casually mentioned them, and since the words will often occur in conversation, I shall observe that in truth, each of these words is but a partial mode of expressing the same thing. A trope, rozos in Greek, signifies no more than the turning of a word from its original meaning. Figure, as I before observed, is when an idea is expressed under the appearance of something else. The ancient critics classed as tropes the metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony; the figures were almost innumerable.
Leaving them to Farnaby, and his brethren, the many useless distinctions which the Greeks have made as to what are called figures, I shall proceed to treat of those forms of expression, in the order which is suggested by the three relations of resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect.
From the relation of resemblance proceed the comparison or simile, the metaphor, the allegory, and the allusion; on the other relations depend the metonymy, the synecdoche, the periphrasis, the prosopopeia, and probably the apostrophe.
The comparison appears to be the first and most natural of all the rhetorical figures. When at a loss to explain our meaning, we are disposed always to apply to the associating principle to furnish an illustration. In this way, a comparison may occur in the simplest and plainest composition, even in a lecture on experimental philosophy.
but I wish rather to treat of them here as a source of ornament, and when judiciously applied there is scarcely any ornament more pleasing. I must observc, however, that the mind of the author must be supposed to be in a cool state, when it descends to this sport of the imagination. Similies are not the natural language of passion; they will apply in description, in narrative, but will not serve to express the vehement emotions of the mind; since then, if the imagination is disposed to be excursive, it will naturally drop the words expressing the resemblance, and snatching the image forcibly at once express itself in metaphor.
Hence you will perceive that the difference between a simile and a metaphor is, that in the former the resemblance is brought before the reader's view by comparing the ideas together, and by words expressing a likeness; a metaphor is a comparison without the words expressing resemblance. I may add, that a distinction might be established between the words comparison and simile. The former is the general word comprehending the whole class, or when used in a limited sense, is more immediately appropriated to the most perfect of the kind; that in which the resemblance is minutely traced through all the agreeing parts of the objects assimilated. The word simile seems chiefly ap propriated to poetry; and I think implies a slighter and more fanciful resemblance.
The Hebrew writings are unquestionably the oldest that have been transmitted to us: their imagery is almost exclusively derived from natural objects; this imparts to them a simplicity which can be attributed to no other writings. Some of their comparisons are how
ever remarkably bold, and some incomparably beautiful, as you will see by consulting a work, which contributed beyond any other to the improvement of my taste, Bishop Lowth's Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews.
One imperfection, however, I have to remark in the similies of the Hebrews, and of the Orientals in general, that the resemblance is often too fanciful and remote. Of this I shall produce an instance from the book of Job, c. vi. v. 15.....20.
"My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away: which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid. What time they were warm they vanish: when it is hot they consume out of their place. The paths of their way are turned aside: they go to nothing and perish. The troops of Tema looked, the companions of Sheba waited for them. They were confounded because they had hoped; they came thither and were ashamed."
The 133d Psalm consists of one of these fanciful similies, but it is extremely beautiful. It is somewhat amplified by Buchanan, and in translating it I made use of a part of his imagery.
Sweet is the love that mutual glows
Sweet as the odorous balsam pour'd
On Aaron's sacred head,
Which o'er his beard, and down his vest,
Like morning dews on Sion's mount,
And deck with gems the verdant pomp
Another particular may also be remarked, which is, that the Hebrew similies are frequently very short. The resemblance usually turns upon a single circumstance,
which they explain in few words, and seldom introduce any matter at all foreign to the purpose.
The classical writers are more sparing of their similies, and they introduce them with greater pomp and form. There is however a disgusting sameness in those of the ancient epic poets. In their descriptions of battles, for instance, the imagery of a lion, a bull, an eagle, and others of the fiercer animals so commonly occurs, that I am frequently more disposed to pass over their similies than to stop and admire them.
The modern writers are possessed of considerable advantages, in this respect, and to these they have not been inattentive. The more extensive views which they possess of sciences, and arts, and of the history of nature in particular, has opened to them a wider and more varied field in poetical imagery. They now decorate our gravest productions, and surprise by their novelty and fanciful application. A very beautiful comparison presents itself at this moment to my memory, from the elegant and lively sermons of Dr. Ogden. In one of his discourses against slander...." Censure," says the preacher, "is in season so very seldom, that it may be compared to that bitter plant, which hardly comes to its maturity in the life of a man, and is said to flower but once in a hundred years."
The following is fanciful, yet perhaps the transitory nature, as well as the splendour of traditional fame, is well imagined under this image....." Then let us be renowned while we may, and leave our fame behind us, like the last beams of the sun, when he hides his red head in the west."....OSSIAN.
From what I have observed, it will follow, that the author who possesses the greatest scope of knowledge, if he has an active and lively fancy, will have the greatest command of imagery, and will produce the boldest and most varied comparisons. Yet the metaphysical poets of Charles the Second's reign, as they are very properly termed by Dr. Johnson, were guilty of such abuses that they disgust us with the figurative style. Their imagery was not select, nor under the regulation